The Natural Coast

Ducks off Foulney Island. (Cumbria Wildlife Trust)
Herdwick sheep - a tough Cumbrian breed.
Sea lavendar at Eskmeals Dunes Nature Reserve near Ravenglass. (Cumbria Wildlife Trust) 
  Marsh Orchid at Clints Quarry Nature Reserve near Whitehaven. (Cumbria Wildlife Trust)
Fine views over the Duddon Estuary
Dalegarth Hall near Stanley Ghyll Force. (Ann Bowker/Visit Cumbria)
The unique Walney Geranium
Seals can be seen off Hodbarrow and along the coast from Walney to the Solway. (Daniel Sencier)

There can be few British coastlines where the beauties of nature can be enjoyed more than along the coast of West Cumbria. From the islands off Barrow in the south to Carlisle in the north there is a succession of nature reserves and places for the quiet enjoyment of scenery and wildlife. There are fells and beaches for those who enjoy walking and the C2C (sea to sea) cycle route starts from Whitehaven (224km/140 miles). Also, the W2W, Walney to Wear and Walney to Whitby long distance cycle routes both start at Barrow.

When coming to the area from the south, rail passengers travelling along the Furness Line pass through the RSPB nature reserve at Leighton Moss, next to Silverdale railway station. This reserve is famous for its Bitterns and, more recently, otters.

Once passengers arrive in Barrow, they can get to a wide choice of nature reserves including three that are internationally renowned. These include South Walney, North Walney and Foulney Island Nature Reserves, managed by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and English Nature.

South Walney Nature Reserve covers 130 ha and contains a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI),  a Special Protected Area (SPA) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). It is open daily and has waymarked trails plus hides and toilets.  In the spring it is a place to see lesser black backed gulls but with over 250 species pof birds recorded it is also home to ducks, oystercatchers and herring gulls. It is unusual as a vegetated shingle habitat which includes ponds  and dune grassland.

Also accessible from Barrow, by bus routes, is Foulney Island but beware as at high tide this 17.5 ha reserve can be cut off from the mainland by the sea. This reserve also includes a SSSI, SAC and SPA. The Island was formed from pebbles of glacial origin but also contains saltmarsh. It is a breeding ground for arctic and little terns and a home to eider ducks.

North Walney National Nature Reserve lies across the Walney Channel from Sandscale Haws with a spectacular landscape of yellow and grey dunes and unique flowers like the dune pansies. North Walney is accessible by the number 6 bus service every 20 minutes and is home to sea spurge, sea holly and to the unique Walney geranium. Here, the salt-marsh is carpeted with sea lavender and thrift. Sandscale Haws is an internationally renowned reserve which is managed by the National Trust (for access details contact

Closer to the town lie Ormsgill Quary and Reservoir, Abbotswood and Millwood. For more information, including a leaflet called, "Wildlife on Barrow's doorstep" have a look at

From Foxfield station, the Duddon Mosses national nature reserve can easily be visited. This reserve is noted for its extensive raised mires which are a haven for deer, adders, lizards as well as birds.

Travelling up the coast, the Millom Ironworks Local Nature reserve is accessible after a walk of about 1 km/0.63 miles from the station. This site has developed naturally after the closure of the  Millom ironworks in 1968. The large areas of slag that still cover the site  make it an unusual habitat  for rare plants. It is also home to natterjack toads and some rare butterflies.

Also accessible from Millom is Hodbarrow RSPB Nature Reserve which lies 2.4 km/1.5 miles from the town by the Hodbarrow coastal lagoon (the largest coastal lagoon in Nortwest England). This reserve is home to the great crested grebe and their spring nesting site is just 33 metres from the hide. Hodbarrow is also home to little terns and sandwich terns, red-breasted mergansers and sedge warblers. The terns oftern use the artificial shingle island in the lagoon and the scrub and grassland areas are home to natterjack toads and skylarks. In the winter, grey and common seals can be seen from the sea wall.

Next comes the Eskmeals Dunes Nature Reserve near Ravenglass. This is a 67 ha reserve on a spit of land between the mouth of the River Esk and the sea. The dunes were formed thousand of years ago and the reserve is now a mixture of sand dunes, shingle and saltmarsh. Over 300 species of plants have been recorded here including sea lavendar.

For those who use "The Ratty" or walk up Eskdale, there is a wonderful walk to Stanley Ghyll Force (Force = old norse word for waterfalls) in the narrow, 20 metre deep gorge that is surrounded by rhododendrons. The walk passes Dalegarth Hall, with its typically Cumbrian round chimneys, and climbs past fields and pine trees, past ferns and ofern herdwick sheep too.

Only 1.25 km/0.75 miles from St Bees station is St.Bees RSPB Nature Reserve. A 5 km/2.8 miles long footpath traverses the reserve. This is a bracing cliff top walk, occasionally on steep and uneven ground, but with stunning views on a clear day to the Isle of Man. The cliff top walk takes visitors to the guillemot nesting colony at Fleswick Bay. This reserve is also home to kittihawks, fulmars, razorbills, ravens, peregrins, skuas, shearwaters herring gulls as well as swallows travelling along the coast. Off to sea, dolphins and porpoises can sometimes be spotted.

From Whitehaven station it is necessary to take a  bus ride in order to have access to the Clints Quarry Nature Reserve near Egremont. This is  a 9.2 ha site that started as a quarry in the 17th Century and has been left to nature to reclaim for the past 75 years. Three species of orchids live on the site and nature has thrived since the industrial processes stopped. However, some industrial archaeology can also be found at this site. 

Close to Carlisle lies the Orton Moss Nature Reserve. This is  a peaceful, wet, mossland site extending over 16.6 ha, plus a new addition acquired in 2009. This site is home to roe deer, tawney owls, foxes and red squirrels. It is accessible by bus from Carlisle or Wigton on the Cumbria Coast Line.

Other smaller nature reserves are to be found within proximity to the Cumbria Coast Line. These include Harrington, Siddick Pond at Workington, Kingmoor at Carlisle, Hallsenna Moor at Seascale, and the Roudsea Woods and Mosses at Ravenglass. For more information, contact the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust and English Nature Reserves.


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